In recent years, online learning has exponentially increased in popularity. Technological innovations have enabled people of all ages to learn from a distance and by utilizing a variety of different mediums; from video tutorials to info graphics and slideshows. It is staggering how online much learning has evolved over the years, and how it continues to revolutionize modern educational practices.
With the creation of the World Wide Web in the 1990s, educational institutions soon began to incorporate technology within their educational practices.In 1994, the very first online curriculum was introduced by CALCampus. Their online school was made available for several major telecommunications networks; including PC-Link, AppleLink, AOL and CompuServe amongst others. Significantly, in early 1995, CALCampus Online Campus made its online school available through the Internet as CALCampus.com. In this way, CALCampus was instrumental in introducing the concept of online-based schools for the public; enabling real-time classroom tutorials to take place via the Internet.
As the Internet continued to develop and evolve, more advanced versions of these online educational schemes became available. For instance, the worldwide commercial distribution of the webcam in 1994 equipped educators with the necessary resources in order to record live lessons and upload them onto educational websites. Similarly, this immediacy of learning enabled students to quickly reply to these online lectures; posting questions and contributing feedback as to how these sessions were beneficial and the areas in which they could be improved. These developments in online educational accessibility led to a greater number of students pursuing online learning. Research undertaken by the National Center for Education Statistics revealed that, between 2002 and 2005, 65% more K-12 students enrolled in online distance learning programs.
More and more educational resources
began to emerge from this point, including BlackBoard in 1997 and SmartThinking in 1999. These organisations endeavoured to serve as innovators in “connecting students with highly qualified teachers” through the interactive platform of the Internet. These endeavours highlight one of the reasons why online learning has grown exponentially in popularity in recent years. Online learning creates an opportunity for students to receive a credible education where they previously would not have had access to sufficient resources. Students who wished to pursue education but who were constricted due to the distance of the institution are now able to achieve education through a new virtual communication channel. Subsequently, according to a 2008 study conducted by the U.S Department of Education, in the 2006-2007 academic year, approximately 66% of postsecondary public and private schools began participating in student financial aid programs which offered some distance learning courses.
As a result, more emphasis was placed on creating free educational resources for students of all ages. The OpenCourseWare Consortium had been in operation since 2002, and continued to expand its database to offer a range of free online course materials from MIT. Similarly, in 2008, the Khan Academy was founded with the specific mission of providing a free, world class education to students through online materials. The Khan Academy continues to offer thousands of bite-sized videos, instant data, and step-by-step problem solving tutorials for students worldwide.
This increasing availability of online educational resources has led to more and more students pursuing learning online. In the US alone, the number of K-12 students undertaking an online course has risen 6600% in the last decade and 86.5% of all US based higher education institutions now offer at least one online course. This exponential increase in online learning has raised its credibility. By 2010, 83% of CEOs and small business owners in the US consider online degrees to be as credible as traditional degrees and 63% of academic leaders have stated they believe online education is integral to their institutions’ long-term academic strategy. Educational agency Maths Doctor highlight the advantages of online learning and the integration of technology within traditional educational practices by pointing out;
“the main benefit described by both teachers and learners in the US is the focus on one-to-one learning afforded by technological supplements. Teachers are able to tackle learners knowledge gaps straight away, while students progress far quicker than they thought possible whilst re-establishing a passion for learning”.
Furthermore, online learning is beneficial for students of all ages. Industry officials, such as Andre Joubert of MWEB Business, enthuse about the benefits of online learning for employee training purposes, stating that;
“E-learning has long been recognised as offering considerable advantages over conventional classroom-based training when it comes to training employees and management quickly, efficiently and conveniently…There are online courses that offer recognised and accredited qualifications in everything from human resource management and marketing to project management and software applications development.”
Ultimately, online learning has grown in popularity for a variety of reasons. The wealth of online resources facilitates greater course diversity and flexibility. Moreover, both students and educational institutions alike can profit from the reduction in financial expenditures due to online learning; students benefit from reduced tuition and transportation fees whilst educational institutions require less physical learning facilities and the expenditures which they incur. Moreover, a recent survey by Ambient Insight Research predicts that the online learning market is expected to rise to $49.9 billion by 2015. Ultimately, this online educational trend continues to grow in popularity and revolutionise how individuals of all ages can access and consolidate their academic knowledge.
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